CA Lawmaker Proposes Zero Tolerance Law for Stoned Drivers

By: Kyle Magin February 21, 2018
California drivers under 21 years old would risk a year-long driver's license suspension if they are caught driving under the influence of any amount of THC, the active component in marijuana.
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Young Californians who are pulled over for driving with any marijuana in their system could lose their licenses for one year under a recently proposed law. 

Senate Bill 1273, proposed on Feb. 16 by California State Senator Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), would cause California motorists under 21 years old to lose their driver’s license if they test positive for driving while under the influence of any amount of THC, the active chemical compound in marijuana. However, drivers who can produce proof that they use medical marijuana would be exempt from the law.  

The bill, which is still under Senate consideration, has the backing of officials at Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), a Virginia-based group that avocates against the legalization of marijuana. SAM’s support and the bill come at a crucial time, as California lawmakers recently legalized the possession and dispensary-facilitated sale of recreational marijuana for users age 21 and up in January 2018.

“Because legalization has further normalized the view that marijuana is harmless among young people, we have to send the message that driving under the influence of marijuana is dangerous,” said Kevin A. Sabet, president of SAM. “This bill is key to reiterating the message to our young people that driving under the influence of any drug, including marijuana, at any time, is unacceptable, risky, and dangerous.”

Drivers under the influence of marijuana are at an increased risk for crashing, though it’s unclear whether stoned motorists cause more roadway deaths.

If passed, Senate Bill 1273 would bring the state’s underage DUI laws into agreement, as young drivers pulled over for suspected alcohol use can also have their licenses suspended for one year if any amount is detected in their bloodstream.

Though, in order to suspend a driver’s license on the spot, as California police officers are allowed to do for alcohol, law enforcement would need a marijuana field testing device to confirm their suspicions that a driver has THC in their system, similar to the breath test widely used in alcohol-related DUI arrests. Hill’s bill suggests scanning for a detectable amount of THC with an oral swab, skin swab, or breath test.

No such tests yet exist, said Richard Desmond, a California Highway Patrol assistant chief. “We don’t have a device in the field to measure impairment by cannabis,” he told lawmakers.

Currently, researchers are looking into different methods for detecting THC levels in motorists, said both Desmond and aides to Hill. Until then, the potential law would pre-empt the available technology should it pass before a THC field test comes online.

If passed, Senate Bill 1273 would be the second piece of Hill-sponsored legislation to impact California motorists who use marijuana. A law which took effect in January bans passengers from using marijuana while inside a vehicle. The lawmaker’s aim is clear: Drugs and driving don’t mix. 

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